Al Dente — until recently known as La Forchetta — has only been open for about six months over by American University, but owner Hakan Ilhan and chef Roberto Donna already have their sights set on a new project. The Washington Business Journal's Missy Frederick had the scoop this morning that the duo had signed a lease in Mt. Vernon Triangle. But this isn't going to be another Al Dente outpost, as Ilhan explained when caught by telephone this afternoon. Rather, this is going to be an as-yet-unnamed Italian restaurant that is more or less the younger, hotter version of Al Dente.
For starters, everything at this downtown restaurant will be bigger and designed with its younger neighborhood in mind. There will be about 200 seats inside and perhaps another 100 outside, a bigger bar with 23 craft beers and a longer wine list, and a private party room. The salumi that Al Dente offers? Well, that will be broken off into its own section at the new restaurant, with salumi, cheese and olives available to go as well.
Longtime Washington chef Roberto Donna will be designing the menu here, too, and so far it sounds fairly similar to Al Dente: another wood-burning pizza oven, the chef's beloved pastas, paninis for the lunch crowd, and fish dishes. But Ilhan says the emphasis will be more on small plates like meatballs and smaller pasta dishes, plus they're considering doing some sandwiches in the wood-burning oven.
Ilhan has already hired a design team — the same one behind Al Dente — to achieve more of an industrial look to the space. He has some names for the concept on the drawing board, but notes that it will probably be months to decide as he doesn't want to deal with the same disastrous name-changing issues he ran into with La Forchetta and the similar-sounding Adams Morgan restaurant La Fourchette. Given how building permits tend to screw up the best-laid restaurant opening plans, Ilhan offers an estimated opening of September 2013, but if all goes well it could happen sooner.